Ahead of the October 24 election, The Observer polled Agassiz-Harrison readers for questions for Chilliwack-Kent candidates that were specific to the issues facing Agassiz, Harrison Hot Springs, Harrison Mills and the District of Kent.
These are the answers from (in alphabetical order) Independent candidate Jason Lum, NDP candidate Kelly Paddon and incumbent Liberal Laurie Throness.
The Observer expects responses from candidate Eli Gagne (Liberatarian), and his responses will be published as soon as possible online at www.agassizharrisonobserver.com and via print in the October 22 edition along with coverage from the October 14 all-candidates meeting.
How do you foresee balancing growth and development while protecting and preserving vital agricultural land and ecosystems?
Jason Lum: I envision a region that provides a variety of affordable housing options for all, whether it’s rural or urban, residential, or mixed use. With a mix of housing options, we will protect valuable farmland. We will help to protect our environment by improving ridership on our public transportation system, reducing auto dependence and cutting down on traffic congestion.
I believe great neighbourhoods offer citizens close access to schools, shopping, libraries, restaurants and amenities. I have consistently championed smart densification and housing affordability policies, including adaptable housing standards, density bonusing for seniors and youth housing, as well as incentives to address low income and non-market housing options.
Kelli Paddon: The B.C. NDP have worked hard since 2017 to build a resilient, sustainable food system across the province – one that works for farmers, communities, and local governments. The B.C. Liberals undermined the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) when they were government and let wealthy speculators drive the price of farmland far out of reach for farmers and farming families. The B.C. NDP listened to farmers and recognized the needs of multi-generational farming families and created a path for them to build a larger house if needed. This will provide even more flexibility than the B.C. Liberals ever gave to help farming families and landowners on the ALR to thrive. That’s why we strengthened protections for the ALR and the strengthened the independence of the Agriculture Land Commission. And it’s why we’ve introduced new initiatives to help farmers with the largest investments for agriculture in B.C.’s history: Grow B.C., Feed B.C., Buy B.C..
Laurie Throness: It has been said that we cannot stop growth; we can only manage it. We should manage growth by densifying in urban areas in order to preserve agricultural land. We should have more programs in place to better manage crown recreational land near urban areas, as their use increases. We must better assist municipalities and farmers who bear the cost of managing the interface between agriculture and wildlife; particularly endangered species. Our regulatory regimes must minimize the impact on the land as well as support the need of farmers to be profitable. As we grow in population, these tensions will increase, and government needs to respond by developing more sophisticated structures and policies to manage these points of tension.
There is a gravel quarry application for an open pit mine near Harrison Hot Springs. This proposal has been an ongoing and prevalent source of controversy, anger and heavy local opposition for a number of reasons, not the least of which being potential environmental, noise and tourism impacts. What is your stance on the quarry and how would you address this on a provincial level?
Lum: As your Independent MLA, you will have a voice in Victoria to share your concerns directly with the Minister(s) responsible. I have publicly shared my concerns with the application when it came to the Fraser Valley Regional District (FVRD) Board table, and supported sending the item back to staff for further work by the applicant. I believe this issue highlights the need for a provincial permitting review to better incorporate and balance the concerns of the community, and concerns with environmental impact, while taking into consideration the needs of industry.
Paddon: The B.C. NDP knows there’s a range of perspectives in the community on this proposed project, and I definitely understand how important this issue is and how critical it is to get this right. When it comes to final decisions about projects like quarries, the decision-making authority lies entirely with independent statutory decision makers, not with politicians. It’s the job of statutory decision makers to do a comprehensive and thorough review of all the information and perspectives before coming to a decision – including consultation. Independent statutory decision makers take their responsibility very seriously – they will take the time to consider and weigh all the information and perspectives before coming to a decision.
Throness: Two years ago, I represented the near-unanimous opinion of the residents of Harrison Hot Springs in opposing the quarry by making a comprehensive presentation to the statutory decision maker and presenting a petition in the Legislature. I followed up in meetings with the government to apprise officials of the issue and as a result, they have spent more time assessing this quarry than almost any other in the province. Should it be approved, the conditions placed by the Ministry of Energy and Mines on its operation must satisfy the citizens of Harrison that their concerns have been addressed.
In Harrison Hot Springs, COVID has made the public hot springs pool more prone to closure, which could have economic implications for the resort municipality. This is but one problem that puts pressure on the area’s tourism-based economy, which has been hit particularly hard during the pandemic. If elected, what would you do to address issues and economic hardships related to tourism in Agassiz-Harrison?
Lum: My election platform identifies an additional $15 million in emergency recovery and response measures specifically targeted to the communities and industry sectors hardest hit right here in Chilliwack-Kent. Both the NDP and the B.C. Liberals have identified spending priorities in the billions but do not mention any of the specific needs of our riding in any of their respective platforms. My platform’s direct recovery funding will provide immediate dollars to tourism and destination marketing organizations, as well as additional targeted support to small resort communities.
Paddon: COVID-19 has had a profound and devastating impact on the tourism sector and has altered British Columbia’s visitor economy. B.C.’s COVID-19 Economic Recovery Plan includes a cross-government approach to help all aspects of the tourism industry recover, create jobs and grow the economy. We are tackling economic hardships by providing:
$300 million for Small Business Recovery grants that many tourism-related businesses will be eligible for;
A temporary PST rebate on select machinery and equipment to make it easier for businesses to make the kinds of investments that will allow them to grow and become more productive;
Implementing a new hiring incentive rebate that will help employers that hire new
people or bring people back who lost their jobs during the height of the
$12 million to support businesses that want to build an online presence, boost
their e-commerce operations, or increase their digital marketing capacity.
In addition, $2 million will be available to support restaurants, tourism businesses and other types of businesses to create digital marketing tools.
With help already underway through our Economic Recovery Plan, we’re focused on new action to help B.C. businesses grow and hire.
Throness: When we were in government, we instituted the Resort Municipalities Initiative, which provides Harrison Hot Springs with an annual share of hotel revenues to beautify the Village. In addition to this ongoing program, our Party has promised to drop the PST to zero for a year, and bring forward a loan guarantee program for the province’s more than 19,000 tourism and hospitality businesses. These programs would have a direct positive impact on the economy of the Village of Harrison Hot Springs.
There is a growing demand among locals for rapid transit from the Fraser Valley into Vancouver. Would you support light rail as an alternative to widening the freeway? Why/Why not?
Lum: I am a big supporter of light rail. The reality is the taxpayers of Chilliwack-Kent cannot foot the bill for any large rapid transit projects on their own. I also don’t believe this is an either/or scenario. I believe we need to prioritize regional transit, while ensuring our main transportation corridors are free from congestion. We need to ensure that the people, goods and services travelling in and out of the Fraser Valley can do so in the most efficient and environmentally sustainable manner possible.
Successive provincial governments have failed to deliver on promises to widen the highway, and they have failed to engage meaningfully with the region to discuss the realities of building a viable light rail link into Metro Vancouver. My election platform outlines an investment of $180 million of provincial and federal dollars to support transit initiatives in Chilliwack-Kent. If elected my first priority will be convening a Fraser Valley Transit secretariat including local, regional, and Indigenous governments to outline the top five investments in the region to be funded. The transit conversation, along with much of the funding, has been dominated by Translink, and its large member municipalities. It’s time to have an MLA who will deliver on our transit needs.
Paddon: British Columbians should be able to get to work, errands and home to loved ones safely and quickly. When commuters pleaded for help with transit projects the B.C. Liberals told them to “suck it up” (Peter Fassbender, 2016). The B.C. NDP has committed to modernizing and widening Highway 1 between Abbotsford and Surrey and expanding transit options for people in growing areas of the province. If elected as your MLA, I will advocate for additional solutions that benefit people in Chilliwack-Kent and the Fraser Valley, including light rail rapid transit. We’ve accomplished a lot, but we have much more work to save people money, reduce traffic, and give people more time with their families.
Throness: The first step, which is the immediate, lowest-cost solution, must be the widening of the freeway. This will accommodate traffic for, perhaps, a decade. Light rail all the way to Chilliwack would bring explosive growth to the city as well as to Agassiz, already compressed by surrounding ALR land. We need to have a public discussion about whether we are willing to accept rapid growth that might, say, triple our population in a very short time. Serious studies of the concept should be undertaken now, so that options will be available to inform a future decision.
Are you in favour of a not-for-profit senior care system? Why/why not?
Lum: I believe the constituents of Chilliwack-Kent are well served when they have a variety of options for senior care: public, private, and not-for-profit. I have been fortunate to have had the opportunity to work alongside many of the dedicated charitable and not-for-profit organizations that provide care to seniors and vulnerable populations. I have seen firsthand the improvements in quality of life when service providers are motivated by compassion, empathy, and kindness instead of profit. My platform is the only one that provides an immediate $45.6 million available to non-profits/charities in Chilliwack-Kent providing seniors care and seniors housing.
The pandemic has only exacerbated the gaps in the seniors care system. We owe it to our elders to do better, and as your Independent MLA that is exactly what I intend to do.
Paddon: We are fixing the problems that the B.C. Liberals left behind by building new, public long- term care homes where people can get quality care. The B.C. Liberals doled out hundreds of millions to for-profit corporations to create new care homes – and it failed miserably, with four of those care homes put under public administration for failing to provide required levels of care. We’re working with non-profits to build public care homes that keep seniors safer, healthier and more comfortable.
For-profit care home operators failed to deliver more than 200,000 hours of care they were paid by the public to provide. We’re putting care before profit through new requirements that will make sure private operators are more transparent and accountable for the public funding they get. We are also committing to improving home care for safe, independent living.
Throness: I’m in favour of a mix of non-profit and market-based seniors care, so that seniors have a choice. Moreover, we live in an aging society with increasing need for accommodation; we will need private-sector capital to supplement our tax dollars in order to build and operate the many beds that will be needed. Given that public or market-based care can be substandard without good regulation, strong government oversight will be key for both.
How do you plan to address homelessness?
Lum: My advocacy work as your MLA will focus on an accountable, goal-oriented, multi-agency approach to tackling homelessness here in Chilliwack-Kent. The first step is to ensure Chilliwack-Kent receives their fair share of the multibillion-dollar housing and infrastructure funding announced by the province and federal government. Providing housing is not the only solution. My platform also identifies immediate outreach supports including new mental health and addictions workers, new RCMP liaison officers, an Assertive Case Management Team and immediate investment in skills training and education resources.
Paddon: These are our neighbours, brothers, sisters, and friends. It’s clear that this is a huge challenge in Chilliwack-Kent. The B.C. Liberals found money for tax breaks to the wealthy, but almost nothing to tackle homelessness, and as a result homelessness tripled under the B.C. Liberals. They don’t have a plan to solve the problems that grew on their watch. John Horgan is the only leader with a real plan to tackle these challenges.
So far, we have housed thousands of people, but it’s clear that we have so much more to do. Our plan to address homelessness includes 2,000 new rent supplements, 800 new treatments beds, 10 new Complex Care homes, 5,000 new supportive homes as part of our 10-year plan, and $25 million for more front-line mental health and social service workers.
Throness: When we were in government, we built more affordable housing and provided rental supplements, which housed many homeless. In recent years, our residents have come to see that society has become too permissive with our public spaces, which encourages crime and general disorder.
The B.C. Liberal platform calls for the hiring of more police as well as more mental health supports to bring order to public spaces while assisting those in need. But since approximately half of the homeless are addicted to drugs or alcohol, the most important thing we can do is to offer them long-term residential treatment that will free them from their addiction. Our party has a plan for this, too.
How would you address the increasing demand for affordable daycare?
Paddon: Affordable childcare means not asking parents to make impossible choices like going to work or staying home. The B.C. Liberals gave tax breaks to the richest while doing nothing for families struggling with childcare. We cancelled the B.C. Liberal tax breaks for the wealthy and invested in childcare for families. We’re creating childcare spaces at the fastest rate in the province’s history and have funded 20,000 new childcare spaces in just two years.
More than 32,000 families in B.C. are now receiving childcare for $10/day or less and we are creating more than 700 new spaces every month. We are accelerating our plan to bring $10-a-day childcare to all B.C. families by increasing benefits and building new childcare space as we work towards providing universal access to before and after school care on school grounds. We’re on track to meet our goals and keep helping parents, but there is still more work to do.
Throness: The B.C. Liberal Party has a plan to continue to build on the 110,000 childcare spaces we left the NDP in 2017, and the new spaces the NDP have added. The NDP emphasis on public-only care has hindered the pace of space creation at great cost; we would spend $1 billion to provide more need-based care at low prices to parents, using a mix of non-profit and market-based care, as well as innovations like a new Ministry of Childcare and a province-wide electronic waiting list.
What is your stance on animal rights? And more specifically, what are your thoughts on the ag-gag laws and the wolf cull?
Lum: I have supported the work of the B.C. SPCA, in particular, the work completed strengthening the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act. I also support the recent amendments to the Act including new regulations regarding codes of practice regarding the care and handling of dairy cattle done in partnership with the Ministry of Agriculture, B.C. Milk Marketing Board, and B.C. Dairy Association. I will support continued engagement with industry, farmers, and communities to promote best practices, while also holding those responsible for mishandling or abusing animals accountable.
Paddon: Livestock operators are an important part of our agriculture and seafood industry. The B.C. NDP fully supports farmers whose farming practices aim to provide good welfare for the animals raised. While in government, the B.C. NDP brought into legislation an updated Livestock Farming Codes of Practice, that outlines best practices for livestock operators to raise and process their livestock in the most humane way possible. Engaging in law abiding protests is an important part of our democracy, they work to bring people along, and they work to change people’s attitudes. But the current law is clear, trespassing and damaging property in the course of acts related to protesting is illegal.
The B.C. NDP takes caribou recovery very seriously – that’s why we rely on a range of approaches in supporting these endangered populations. When it comes to making decisions about wolf management in B.C., we rely on expert advice. The research shows us that wolves are the principal predator of caribou in B.C.. In order to recover and protect endangered caribou herds, we are working with stakeholders on an emergency 2-year predator reduction program. This program involves reducing the number of wolves in the area and its central goal is to support the recovery of caribou populations.
Throness: I decry all cruelty to animals and I support the SPCA, which is specifically tasked in law with investigating and bringing people to justice who offend in this way. In response to a dairy farm of Agassiz, I brought forward a private members bill in the Legislature to deter activists who act as vigilantes to trespass on farmland in order to shut down animal husbandry. As to the wolf cull, if we don’t remove some carnivorous wolves we condemn their large-animal vegetarian prey to death. Therefore, I support the wolf cull in order to provide balance on the land by increasing the population of endangered wildlife.
With the age of COVID, being outdoors is more important to British Columbians than ever before. How will you support the development of trails and recreational opportunities in the Agassiz-Harrison area?
Lum: As Chilliwack City Liaison to the Parks and Trails Committee and the FVRD Chair, I have been directly involved in the acquisition and development of new parkland across the region. One of the most important things I have learned in my elected career is the value of partnerships.
As your Independent MLA, I would immediately sit down with the non-profit and user groups working on parks and trail development, including the Fraser Valley Mountain Bikers Association, the Parks Society, as well as Indigenous communities and identify where their needs are in order to prioritize investment in Chilliwack-Kent. Our many outdoor offerings are one of the greatest competitive advantages we have as a region.
Paddon: We live in a beautiful natural area that can be enjoyed by locals and tourists alike. The new Community Economic Recovery Infrastructure Program will invest $100 million in projects that make life better for locals and improve the experience for visitors.The elements that support the tourism sector includes $20 million to support economic recovery for rural communities; and $20 million for investments in unique heritage infrastructure, including funding for First Nations to repair, renew or develop Indigenous cultural heritage infrastructure.
B.C. Parks had record visitation over the summer, and with this level of demand expected to continue in the future, government is investing $5 million in parks infrastructure.
We are also committed to creating better camping experiences for your family: We will expand B.C.’s popular provincial parks by creating new campgrounds, trails, and protected areas while increasing funding to improve infrastructure and protect park ecosystems.
Throness: As MLA, I have already been successful in obtaining a $3 million shoulder enhancement to the Agassiz-Harrison Highway to more safely accommodate cyclists. A B.C. Liberal government provided $1 million toward the new recreational center in Agassiz, and I have supported the request for an infrastructure grant to build a new regional pool there. I was instrumental in the creation of the East Side Forest in Harrison, and I was supportive of a Bear Mountain Trail until it was abandoned by its proponents. If elected, I will continue to stand ready to represent my communities in all their recreational needs.
See the extended answers online at www.agassizharrisobserver.com. Live coverage of the October 14 all-candidates debate specific to Chilliwack-Kent will be available via the Observer’s Twitter page at twitter.com/AgassizObserver.